America & Tun Tavern

Frank Borelli
Editor-in-Chief
Officer.com

As the United States Marine Corps celebrates its 235th Birthday on November 10th, 2010, I felt it appropriate to take a look at the Marine Corps' birth place and recognize the impact it had on our country's development. Happy Birthday Marines!

Perhaps best known as the birth place of the United States Marine Corps (November 10th, 1775), Tun Tavern was built in 1685 by a man named Samuel Carpenter. When it was built it sat at the intersection of Water Street and Tun Alley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The name Tun Tavern was a play on words relating the tavern both to the alley it sat next to (Tun Alley) and the fact that the old English word tun was what we called a beer container. So this was a tun sitting on the corner of Tun. Much later, in the 1740s, a restaurant was added on to the tavern.

Now please understand that while I served in the Army (a quirk of fate actually) I have four older brothers who all served in the Marine Corps (and are therefore Marines until the day they die), and a son who is a Marine. My daughter-in-law is a Marine. One of my best friends is a Marine, though not currently on active duty (once a Marine, always a Marine). So I can't escape the Marine Corps impact on my life even if I wanted to. With such a large Marine Corps impact on my life I can't escape the knowledge that on November 10th in 1775 the Tun Tavern served as the very first recruiting station for the newly formed Continental Marines.

The Continental Congress, on November 5th, 1775 commissioned Samuel Nicholas a Captain of Marines, the first commission issued in the Continental Naval Service. Cpt. Nicholas is generally considered the first Commandant of the Marine Corps. As such his first task was to recruit Marines. Cpt. Nicholas based recruitment efforts at Tun Tavern using then-proprietor Robert Mullan as the "chief Marine Recruiter". And so the United States Marine Corps was born. I know a few folks who would argue that the Marine Corps was actually born on November 5th with that act of the Continental Congress, but I consider arguing with Marines a generally stupid thing to do. I don't think anyone would argue that the United States Marine Corps has played a significant role in the evolution and growth of the United States.

Along the same military lines, in 1756 Benjamin Franklin used Tun Tavern as a recruiting station and gathering point for the Pennsylvania Militia as it prepared to fight against Native American "up risings". Some would say these were aggressive acts on the part of the Indians. Others would say these acts were defensive on the part of the Indians against the white man's incursion into Indian territory and land. Either way, we see that Tun Tavern was used as a military recruiting station at more than one point in our country's history.

Earlier we mentioned the Continental Congress and I had to do some research into those meetings as well. It seems that the Second Continental Congress, meeting in 1775, held one or more meetings at the Tun Tavern. Hmmm... Now we have our country's first legislative body meeting at this pivotal site in our nation's history. The Second Continental Congress established the Continental Army in June of 1775, and we've already seen that they established the Continental Marines in November of that same year.

But it wasn't only governmental and military organizations that have affected the growth of our country, and it wasn't just those organizations that used or formed at the Tun Tavern. Several charitable organizations have started there as well. For those of us who believe that being a warrior doesn't conflict with being charitable, and in fact that both are strong character traits, we might see the Tun Tavern as a location of spiritual birth.

In 1720 the first meeting of the St. George's Society, known better today as the Sons of the Society of St. George, was held at Tun Tavern. This charitable organization was developed to provide support and assistance to needy Englishmen arriving to the new colonies. In 1747 it became the founding place of the St. Andrew's Society which was a St. George Society equivalent but developed to serve those arriving Scottish men.

That brings me to perhaps the most secretive and mysterious organization that had its United States founding in Tun Tavern: the Free Masons. In 1732 Tun Tavern hosted the first meetings of St. John's Lodge No. 1 of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple. Given that many of the important figures in our country's history were Masons, I believe it's safe to say that Free Masonry affected the evolution and growth of the United States. Some of those figures would include:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • John Paul Jones
  • Andrew Jackson
  • George Washington
  • Davy Crockett

Some that aren't so historic but whose names are just as well known (and who have been influential in our country) would include:

  • General Douglas MacArthur
  • John S. McCain, Sr.
  • Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Walt Disney
  • Duke Ellington

Knowing all of that I can't help but wonder how much cross-connection there is between our military services and the charitable organizations that were started in the same location. We would expect our governmental founders - those who were present for the first and second Continental Congress at least - to have played a hand in the creation of our military services. That they also were members of, or played leadership roles in the Free Masons (Benjamin Franklin was the Grand Master of Pennsylvania) leads me to the belief that many of our most basic values and goals, as delineated in the various military service creeds, mottos and more, are shared with such charitable organizations as the Masons. What many folks don't know - but is clearly important in the history and development of the United States Marine Corps as well as the United States itself - is that Samuel Nicholas was himself a Mason, belonging to the (then) Lodge 13 in Philadelphia. Care to guess where his lodge held its meetings? You got it... Tun Tavern.

Be all that as it may, there is no question that the Tun Tavern was indeed a location of significant importance in our country's history. Unfortunately the original Tun Tavern is no longer there. Instead, if you're driving on Interstate 95 through Philadelphia you drive over the location where it once stood. I think it's a shame that such a hugely important historic location was destroyed for the benefit of convenient driving.

I have been to the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City, New Jersey and it's a nice enough place. I don't think it does justice to the roots of the original. The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia has a Tun Tavern-themed restaurant that I'm sure does a better job of honoring what was such an important and historic landmark in the history of the United States.

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